Monday, May 12, 2014

Your Library of Knowledge

My Realm of Infinity
By Darren Kehrer

We have all seen that credit card commercial with a similar title. It depicts scenes of “unintended outcomes” happening to individuals because they didn’t have the right credit card in their wallet. The theme being communicated is that without the right tool at your disposal (a credit card in this case), the result might not be what you wanted.

Exporting and applying that theory to the world of writing, the same is true for writers. Many of us keep paper notebooks with us at all times, or use some cool App on our Smartphones, to record things for later reflection. We use our computers and related devices to surf the net, to read blogs, check out writing resources, and to continually grow our writing education.

I would submit that your own “in house” personal library could be your most important tool. I like having hardcopy, paper resources of reference materials, novels, and magazines available to page through or take to my favorite reading chair or study table. There is just no substitute for having a “book in hand” or being able to browse through your very own paper-based library.

Among fiction writers, it is a well-accepted fact that writers should read good fiction. Writers continually need to perfect their craft and educate themselves in order to expand and improve their writing skills. I know of several authors who keep copies of certain “how-to-write” books near their computers because they feel them to be invaluable. To that end, I have worked (almost since I have been a we lad) to build my own library in both fiction and reference books.

I have two main writing interests: science fiction and Christian speculative fiction. As my desire to craft fiction in these two categories has grown over the years, I have built up a rather (a-hem) large library of both.  In fact, my wife was almost rather alarmed at the extent of my library after we built our house and I unpacked my “library of knowledge.”  Yes, this might be bordering on an addiction, but it is nice to have a library that I can turn to and pull out the inspirational or writing reference book I need at that moment.

When I find a book that I really think might be useful in the future, I will go ahead and purchase it now to have it readily accessible when the need arises. Once upon a time, I made a list of books I wanted to buy, both fiction and non-fiction. By the time I got around to buying them, however, I would discover that they were already out-of-print and on the hard-to-find list. It astonishes me how fast some books go out-of-print. At that point, I will usually purchase those books in eBook format (but only if I really think they would be useful to my craft).

As you can see, I consider my reading library part of the expense of my trade; furthermore, like any good tradesmen, having the right tool for the right job when you need it can really make a difference in your craft and the resulting product. Put another way, I can buy all the lumber and nails I need to build my house, but if I don’t have the right tools in my toolbox (hammer, etc.) to actually build my house, the result may not be what I intended.

In my writing reference toolbox, I have a vast library of books to educate me and to keep me immersed in my genres of interest. My library contains books on Star Trek, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Restorer series, and the Left Behind series to name a few fiction titles. I also have books on theoretical physics, space travel, and even books on the superhero genre as reference books for science fiction devices and technology. One bookcase alone is filled entirely with writing reference books such as titles in the Writer’s Digest line, Christian Writers’ Market Guide (building editions since 2001), and other books on the different elements of the craft of writing. In some cases, it pays to keep multiple editions of the same books. Why multiple editions? Because with each year, some things get dropped out so that the revised book doesn’t continue to grow in size beyond what is realistic; consequently, I sometimes find that the resulting new content is less useful than the old.

To drive my need to brainstorm, I often read through reference materials to generate ideas, get my facts straight, and to get my theoretical sci-fi technology sorted as to be believable (as is the case for my current speculative fiction work-in-progress Cause and Effect.) It’s fun to pick up a reference book on something and hunt for story ideas.

When your mind is stuck at the stop sign on a particular fiction piece, head to your personal library and pick up someone else’s fiction. Reading about someone else’s adventures can help you remember yours. To generate some new ideas to explore, pick up a reference book and start learning. The bottom line: let your mind drift and relax. Let your subconscious work on that project that’s still waiting for you back at the stop sign seeking direction.

As you can see, your personal “in-house” library can be a very valuable tool in your writing toolbox.  

  1. Do you find your library just as useful
  2. What books do you have in yours
  3. Which ones do you find the most valuable?


  1. Thanks, Darren for this post. It was mind bending because it affirms my belief that my personal library is important to my learning and writing. I have a whole bunch shelf devoted to Romantic Suspense/ Thriller books within reach of my computer, so when I have an idea, and I need to study how an author accomplished a certain aspect, I can reach the book and find what I'm looking for. I have a shelf for literary favorites, a shelf for my vast C.S. Lewis collection (I own almost every piece of his writing, which helped in grad school when I wrote two papers about his work), and a overflowing shelf on writing and police procedures for reference. I treasure my C. S. Lewis books the most. I loved the way his passion for reading and writing came alive in all his various genres of writing. Thanks!

  2. I was recently given a library of books on writing (What a gift! Blessings! Blessings my friend!) and have decided I'll aim to read one a month. One book I've had for years is "From Elvis to Email" and lists the important events by date along with when sayings were popularized. So if I need to know if a product or a phrase was in use for a certain time period, I just check the book. It's also helpful for referring to news items that help keep a timeline.

  3. Darren, good piece. I have a nice collection of writing craft book, hard copies all--except for a couple that I bought when I first got my Kindle. Don't get me wrong. I love my Kindle, but not for reference books, not for Bible study books, and definitely not for writing books. For those, I need to be able to thumb through the pages, write notes in the margins, highlight significant passages.

    My writing books are on the bookshelf adjacent to my writing desk. Frequently used volumes are within an easy stretch. I confess to having six bookshelves in my living room/office. Three reach nearly to the ceiling. Yes, I have a library. Pretty good for a kid whose formative years were in a bookless home (except for a handful of Little Golden Books. Good thing the library was only two blocks away.
    Write on!
    Because of Christ